President Biden recently announced his support for easing patent rules surrounding COVID-19 vaccines and other COVID-related intellectual property in the wake of growing crises in India and South Africa. Despite President Biden’s public support, easing the international patent rules requires a unanimous decision on the part of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is still uncertain. However, with the United States’ announcement, the European Union (EU) will also reportedly consider the issue. Predictably, major pharmaceutical companies, including the three pharmaceutical manufacturers with vaccines approved for use in the United States — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson —have lobbied against easing patent rules. But, given the uniquely global reach of the pandemic and the practical barriers to the production and distribution of vaccines on a global scale, it would be a mistake not to provide patent infringement waivers. What is the need? What is the legal issue? And will it make a difference?
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